Thursday, April 17, 2008

Getting the Stars to Buy In- Strategic Deployment


If you want to have a post with a lot of discussion, talk about college! This post is more general, and thus I estimate will receive less posts.

One of the things I have seen over the years in ultimate is the insistence of star players to play games and points that are not meaningful. Unless they are hurt, sun stroked or already dehydrated and tired, it seems every great player wants to play every o point and every d point during a tournament.
Ian Graham-2006 CUC
Source: Ultypics/Cory Berhout

Just to ensure you understand my focus here, I'm NOT talking about bad line calling. That happens a lot in our fair sport, where we see great teams completely fail to utilize a roster full of talent when it matters most. I'm simply talking about the overuse/overplaying of star players and how that can/should be corrected.

We all love teammates who want to play every point. I would say that these ultimate players are doing it to try and help the team and because they love to play, not for ego and selfish reasons. No one needs to pad their stats in ultimate because we don't really take them.. yet. (insert evil laugh here).

I think we all want to play every point at the onset of a tournament, but realities of the strategically inclined soon set in. There are Saturday match ups where your less than great players should play and win some games for you. Every point that you can save your best on Saturday and early Sunday is going to improve your chances on sunday afternoon glory this spring, summer and fall.

You don't know what kind of battle you'll face the next day, just that you'll be fighting. So save your ammo.

And please, stop the "I need my reps" and "I'll get out of sync if I sit off". All players should be properly ready with practice during the weeks and proper tournament day warm ups.

More and more teams have rosters of 25-30 guys/gals per tournament, and the majority of these players think that they aren't getting enough play time. We're always trying to cater to our best players for fear of anger/frustration, but teams have to realize that their best players may not know what's best for their bodies and the team's chances. The road to he$$ is paved with good intentions.. and so on.

Contrast this to other sports, and you'd be surprised to see the mentality of top athletes. Preserving for when they need it most and managing themselves to extract top results is just business.

With an influx of coaches on club teams, you'll start to see better roster management. Not only will stars be better rested, but role players will have a clear role and can enter Sunday knowing they contributed the day before and should be involved on the sideline and on the field as needed.

Selling the best players on this idea will be the hardest part. Ideas?


Jeff said...
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T1000 said...

I agree with your assessment. I would just like to elaborate on one of the key reasons for this behaviour: as you've said, for many teams, the best players are also the captains and player-coaches.

The result is that these stars feel a harrying personal responsibility to win the game, and to do so by demonstrating good form, good work ethic, good decisions and good athleticism. I'm sure you'll agree, Steve, that you can see these players irrationally run themselves into the ground especially when fighting a clearly lost battle.

The coach must think strategically, but the captain must be a fountain of inspiration. It's very hard for one player to fit both roles at once.

jhaig said...

Al, you've alway been my fountain of inspiration.

Jon Rayner said...

Thanks Steve... good question to pose.

While mulling it over, I tripped over a Parinella post on how much star players (studs) should play... and it got some interesting responses from some top U.S. players: Studs Theory vs Plug N Play.

Thought it was interesting to read that a couple of O players recalled that the best Os they played on used 8-man rotations. While I suspect it didn't hurt that those players' egos were well-insulated with all that PT, I think line chemistry must also be a key factor.

When I see teams get a great result with a short bench (e.g. due to a small roster being able to make a tourney), I'm very curious about why. Addition by subtraction (best players made the trip)? Great on-field chemistry due to maximized PT with the same grouping of teammates? Players with no "I'm gonna get pulled if I screw up" issues because there's no one else behind them?

Examples that come to mind are Carleton U's recent Sectionals win, and GOAT making a Chicago final ('05?) with a small crew. Are these isolated freak results... or is there something more there?

As the sport moves forward, I think coaches will need to work hard to get a good grasp of the profile of their team (top-heavy vs. flat talent distribution), then implement a rotation that best suits:

1) the conditions of each particular match-up (e.g. early pool play blow-out win vs. tourney final, or using zone-savvy players more in heavy winds, etc.)

2) team seasonal goals (e.g. B-team player development vs. A-team win NOW and preferably quickly and efficiently)

3) the individual needs (psychological, physical, emotional, etc.) of the players vs. the needs of the team... what can the coach do to have individual and team goals line up as much as possible?

4) other considerations?

Jon Rayner said...

Also wanted to ask what people think about roster size and its impact on this issue of how PT is divvied up...

You'd like to carry 25+ players to make sure team practices have enough bodies, but does anyone feel you need more than 18-20 healthy players going into a tournament?

Should club teams all have larger practice rosters and just make it clear at the outset of the season that only the ~18 best/healthiest players will travel to each tournament? Perhaps bring along 3 or 4 inactives to keep stats and sideline help... and ready to step in if injuries get crazy?

Will players need to be paid before they'll consent to being inactive?

Sport Management Steven said...


I am reluctant to debate the points of one of the nicest people in ultimate (you) but I might have to here. Voraciously.

-As per my post, (and t-1000's) the very problem with asking players about their play time and effectiveness is the insane bias they have. We all want more PT or the most PT.

-You'll hear garbage all day about 7-8 man units and there effectiveness/chemistry. There is nothing tangible to back up those claims. There is also nothing to control for factors that they/you are not accounting for. (talent, strength of competition, etc).

-If you can't find chemistry (outside of the starting 7) with the same teammates that you practice with every year for a mimimum 7 month period, (min. 2 times per week) You have to be incredibly slow minded or be in a terrible static/predictable offence.

-Every athlete, no matter who, tires. As they tire, they become less effective. Some players are more fit, or more skilled, so they are slower to reduce in effectiveness. However, the more expenditure of energy on nothing points and nothing games, the less effective latter on all players become.

I also fail to see how taking away the fear of benching leads to good chemistry. I think it may have a stronger link to complancency and self entitlement than anything else.

Speaking to your small sample size of "examples"

-Carleton U won their sectionals due to a weaker field. Their success has so little to do with a short bench and more to do with the weakness of their opponents relative to who Chess Club put on the field. Versus equal teams, Chess Club suffers.

-Did Goat actually win that '05 final you speak of? Were they fresh when they got there?

I don't know where you're going with the 'coach considerations', so I won't comment on that.

Jeff said...
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Jon Rayner said...

Glad to prompt some debate. And hey... the comments had stalled, so I had to do something. Still a ways to go before matching the 17 in the CUUC eligibility post. :-P

I think my current position could be roughly summarized as...

Maximized chemistry between studs good. Overtired studs bad. Find the balance and win the prize!

Sport Management Steven said...


-Let me repeat my main point. On many ultimate teams at the club level, star players get overused during saturday play or during games where they are not needed to ensure victory. A team must be strategic in deployment of star players and use them when needed most. They must find ways to convince star players why this needs to be done.

-I still question the link between taking away the chance of benching with chemistry. Show me the link.

-I think people coast when they have to conserve energy, and when they know they won't get bench.

-You say I'm making "wild assumptions" and then you throw out percentages on how much better your top players are over others on the team. You spoke to a wild assumption with a statistic that has no grounding. Well done.

-If you play not to get benched, then you are weak. If you play for a team that you worry about benching you without cause, that underlines bigger problems.

-I am not advocating that star players sit out ALL games they can't win. I am saying that you have to be strategic in playing stars in meaningless games. Especially in a compact time period like a weekend tournament.

-I like your NBA examples, but the way ultimate tournaments are set up, we aren't allowed the same rest periods as an NBA playoffs. And NBA teams sure as hell don't overuse top players once their playoff spots have been secured. Ditto every professional team/olympic sport.

lank89 said...

most teams ihave played on have started from the top and worked our way down, as a lead increases. I have found this has worked because the top players have been in there while the points are really important. Then you count on your next wave of players (still with some top players on the line) to maintain or even increase the lead if possible. And third you let the role players take control for a bit, allow them to develop and maybe gain a little confidence. You get to see which players will be able to step up to the plate for your team, if someone goes down with an injury. Everyone is gettign their reps in and can feel like they contributed to the success of the team.

Obviously this is dependant on your team winning, but if it is a close game any team is going to have their studs out there anyways.

T1000 said...

I, for one, know that I play best if I play two points in a row, then take a point off. I've had to train myself to decline extra PT even if I know I can handle it. Go figure, DoG played their best players for only 2/3 of the total points. I don't think this is coincidence.

I looked closely at the DoG data. A lot of the analysis and comments looked at O-lines. In games that you win, the O-line is never on the field for more than half the game, and preferably much less. I would argue that an eight-man O-line is distributing a healthy amount of rest for its members (only two of DoG's players played a substantial number of both O and D points). The D-line spread its heavier workload over more players. If they are winning games (even close ones), it should be easy to give the stars at least 30% rest, which may be all the rest you need.

As for examples of short rosters winning big, I would contend that these are examples of sports psychology. I think Carleton was riding a wave of intensity and momentum at Sectionals; their victories allowed them to play as few games as possible and they won a lot of those games quickly. As a result, they were still in pretty good physical condition when it mattered, and they brought their emotional intensity to the field. Had they met real adversity earlier or lost an early game, then they would have finished very differently. Many of us know how deflating it is to lose a finals berth after a close-fought game. Trying to muster fresh strength for the back-door or consolation match becomes infinitely harder.

-Resting your stars does not mean benching them; it means giving them at least 30% rest
-short rosters thrive on intensity; collapse when their momentum is stopped.

Sport Management Steven said...

-Agree with Lank 89.

As for the T-1000:
-You feel that the 2 on 1 off ratio is best for you. How did you come to that conclusion? Shouldn't you be going all out on point one out there? Are you trying to tell us you coast on the first of two points?

-I spoke to the Carleton captain last night, and he reassured me the competition sucked. That's why playing with 9 was so easy.

-I'm seeing a lot of sport pyschology word drops here, but I'm questioning the depth and breadth of study done. Are we really reading the work of Terry Orlick, Albert Caron, and Daniel Smith?

T1000 said...

I don't quite understand your question, Steve. The 2:1 ratio means I play two hard points, and then sub off. I don't recommend "coasting" for anybody. It's a convenient rule of thumb, and if it were true for everybody, it would predict an ideal roster size around 21 players.

However, as you've implied, this is only anecdotal evidence. I reached this conclusion about myself after several summers of playing very different ratios on very different teams.

Two extremes, for example:
As a rookie, I'd get thrust onto the field in something more like a 1:4 ratio. I'd be cold, shocked by the first sprint, and trying to grasp a feel for my opponent. My personal contribution to the team was small on these occasions. As a veteran on a team, Ryan Lee once made me play 168 points in a weekend, and I was a human wreck by the end. We didn't do very well.

I saw that when I played MORE than ~2/3 of the game, my performance declined over the course of the game, day or tournament (depending on how thoroughly I abused myself). I know that I CAN play 80%-100% of the time, but I get fewer d-blocks and I score fewer points with time.

Perhaps more importantly, I have found that I suffer more injuries when I play too much. To date, I have never injured myself in a tournament in which I have played less than 2/3 of the points. Obviously, this statement has a "Russian Roulette" fallacy built-in: if you play fewer times, of course you have fewer chances to hurt yourself. But that too should be a strategic consideration.

Playing 2/3 of the game keeps me "warm" (thermally, physiologically, psychologically) but allows me to pace myself. I just plain feel better when adhering to it. It is only an estimate of an ideal ratio, grounded in the convenience of playing 2 points on and one point off. Furthermore, it is probably an estimate of only my maximum playability (the most a coach can play me before I noticeably tire).

But it happens to be a very common ratio used in interval training techniques. And it is also the ratio used by the best players on the DoG roster. Why? I'm not sure, but there may be some merit to it.

I promise not to use the words "sports psychology" in a sentence again if you promise to try to understand what I'm trying to say. I'm no expert at psychology (hate it, in fact); I do know what I feel on the field, though.

T1000 said...

Forget that comment about a 21-player roster. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I wrote that.

jhaig said...

I think I'll disagree with you steve, but I haven't prepared a formal report with data and charts to back up my theories, so feel free to belittle them at your earliest convenience.

It's been many years since I've played for a team where convincing our studs they didn't need to play meaningless games was a problem. That was a back in University and I'm sure our best player played well over half if not closer to 2/3 of games we won 15-0, which was dumb and we knew it. That said our roster was only about 14 players and all those people would play a few points in finals and 10 or 11 of them were certainly got heavy minutes in big games. So realistically you could only rest people so much.

Since then I've never played for a team where I thought "damn we're beating this team bad, why is Mr. Stud." Playing so much. Most guys I've played with understand that Saturday only matters enough that you wind up in the bracket you want to be in for Sunday. All that matters is winning your Sunday games. That said you really do have to compete pretty hard at all your games at any reasonable tournament if you hope to win. There aren't that many games to coast in. Most guys are happy to see role players out in whatever easy games you may have and get a rest, and are happy to see them succeed knowing how hard they worked all year in practice.

It's possible you and I have different notions of resting star players though, not sure. My ideal for a winning blow-out would be similar to that mentioned above:

-play your 7-9 man offensive rotarion for all O points (likely less then 10)

-play your 7-10 man D-line rotation early and if the team you're playing is as bad as you think they are, you should have a good lead early.

-mix in your bottom bench guys with your D-line starters and let them carry you to victory.

That being said a 15-0 victory playing your best 14 players is probably better then 15-10 win playing your whole roster equally. Really depends on the depth of your team.

As I've disclaimed earlier, no one with PhD after their name that I know of has this written down in a book or a scientific study. This is just my limited experience with the teams I've played for over the years.

Jon Rayner said...

- Alex... was just about to ask about the 21 player thing. Maybe I missed it, but when you say 2:1, do you mean 2:1 total points, or 2:1 for one of either the O or D line?

If it's the second case, the numbers go like this: if all O line players go 2:1, you need 7 x 1.5 = 10.5 players. Same with D. Then 10.5 + 10.5 adds up to your roster of 21. Someone fix my math if I'm off please.

But if you mean 2:1 for all points, don't you only need 10.5 guys? Add a few more to account for attrition? What's your roster? 12-15?

T1000 said...

My original intent was to emphasize that I avoid playing three points in a row. After two points, I now always try to sub off.

When I do that at a casual tournament, then it typically turns out that I've played 2/3 of the total points. At a formal tournament, I sub off more frequently to let the O-line take the field.

But I'm not going to try to massage my numbers post facto. If every player can handle 2/3 of the total points, then you would think that more elite teams would carry just 11 players. I think most teams carry at least 18 players, corresponding to an average of 40% of the total points each. Possible explanations:
-to accomodate attrition
-not everyone plays best at a 2:1 ratio
-2:1 ratio just represents max. playability and not ideal PT.
-Large roster gives false impression of a better-distributed workload

Sport Management Steven said...

Way to make me look like a 'big meanie' Haig. I think you're right in that every team knows when to sit out the stars in a blowout. Where the waste of energy is happening is in the 15-10 games.

It's an art and a science. The end goals of the tournament are to win all your games and save your best for the finals.

We can't all be a machine like T-1000. Sadly. That is the art of the matter. Knowing respective players limits and using them just right, all the while convincing them you know best and this will lead to best results.

And I promise to try and understand T-1000. I'm a product of my environment. I have coworkers using dartfish to analyze every athlete motion in the hopes of improving times by 100ths of a second, so I genuinely want to know how you figure it out.

jhaig said...

The problem with that 15-10 game is that it's often closer then the score would indicate. I guess that's the real tough part is when can you put a game on cruise control (from a line calling perspective) and when do you have to keep your foot on the floor and get done with it.

I've deffinately won games 15-11 where we were pulling at 10-11 and 1 legit D, 1 dropped pull and a turfed pass later and things have swung really fast and it looks like we handled the team easily, when in fact it was a very close game throughout. I've also lost a game 12-13 going into the time cap with a 12-8 lead. It's a hard balance line calling. I've done it and I don't envy anyone who has to do it, and I hope to never have to do it again.

Jennifer said...

I think that having the “right” talent is only half the game.
The deployment of talent is very important to make this happen.